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Spring ISD Education Foundation Grant Express Supports Innovative Teaching and Learning

HOUSTON – Jan. 23, 2020 – Spring ISD Education Foundation board members traveled across the district recently, making surprise campus visits to award grants for innovative learning projects developed by district staff to serve students. The annual event – known as the Grant Express – provides funding for a range of campus-based initiatives, and according to Spring ISD Education Foundation President Ken Grays, it serves as a highlight of the year.

“To see the eyes of the children, to see the amazement and shock of the teachers,” said Grays, “is just phenomenal for me.”

For more than 25 years, the Spring ISD Education Foundation’s grant program has been a hallmark of the group’s work in and around the district. Through the years, the foundation has raised and donated more than one million dollars to fund grant requests from Spring ISD teachers and schools – mostly in the form of checks totaling no more than a few thousand dollars each.

According to foundation board member Debra Beeman, who chairs the grant committee, a little bit here and a little bit there adds up to big impacts over time.

“There are a lot of good things out there that you don’t see until you get in the buildings,” said Beeman, a retired Spring High School teacher who received Grant Express funds as an educator and now enjoys giving back through her work with the foundation. “There’s a lot of really good teachers that have some great ideas, innovative ideas, so that’s what we try to do, to fund things that the district can’t fund.”

One of this year’s grants, at Salyers Elementary School, will expand students’ access to books and help bridge the gap between school and students’ homes.

“I’m very excited,” said Salyers Reading Specialist Alice Scarboro of the grant award, which, in addition to literacy workshops, will also help fund the purchase of books for every student at the school to keep and take home. “Research really supports that reading at home – even if it’s just 15 to 20 minutes a day – really increases scores on academic assessments. And so my goal is to get books into the kids’ hands.”

At Bammel Middle School, meanwhile, teachers will use their grant funds to purchase a modular robot construction system. The system, called Fable, incorporates elements of programming, engineering and artificial intelligence that will engage students in hands-on, cross-curricular projects with real-life applications.

“We’re trying to bring the real world of robotics to the classroom,” said Bammel CTE teacher Jerry Griffin, “and how it connects across the curriculum with science, technology, language arts, social studies and mathematics.”

Foundation members’ final Grant Express visit was to McNabb Elementary, where the year’s largest award – a $10,000 grant spearheaded by music teacher Christine Ballenger – will bring full class sets of 27 ukuleles to nine separate Spring ISD elementary campuses that joined together to sponsor the proposal. At McNabb, Ballenger will use the instruments to teach music fundamentals while also reinforcing language arts skills through lessons in songwriting.

“I just wanted to benefit as many students as possible, as many teachers as possible,” explained Ballenger, who joined Spring ISD this year and said she was excited to be part of an initiative that would reach hundreds of elementary students across the district. “The ability to touch so many kids in one year is just truly remarkable. And to do it through music just shows the importance the arts have in our lives.”

Asked if she had any messages for the foundation, Ballenger didn’t hesitate.

“Just a huge ‘thank you!’” she said.

A complete list of this year’s grant awardees includes:

Bammel Middle School – $4,600
Bammel Middle School received a grant that will enable the school to purchase a modular robot construction set called Fable, from Shape Robotics. An advanced robotics system that incorporates programming as well as artificial intelligence, the Fable system will inspire hands-on, cross-curricular, creative problem solving with real-world applications. The application was submitted by Jerry Griffin, LaVette Muhammad and Tonya Newton.

Meyer Elementary School – $1,000
Meyer Elementary School received a grant to incorporate guitars into the school’s music curriculum. The goal, according to teachers and administrators, is to inspire high levels of musicianship and musical appreciation in students. Students will also incorporate studies in reading – and reading music – to enhance their literacy development through arts integration. The application was submitted by Val Gentry.

Reynolds Elementary School – $5,000
Reynolds Elementary School received funds for a language-and-performance grant proposal aimed at boosting reading proficiency scores. Grant funds will be used to connect students with a full range of level-appropriate books and reading materials. The expanded access will better allow students to engage with materials that reinforce their current reading skills while also challenging them to grow and improve. The Reynolds grant was made possible through a donation made in memory of former Spring ISD educator Dorothy Crawford. The application was submitted by Brittany Joseph and Sheneria Perry.

Salyers Elementary School – $4,996
Salyers Elementary School received funding to support a campus reading initiative called A Book a Day Keeps the Doldrums Away. The purpose is to increase exposure to literature, foster a love of reading and increase achievement scores as assessed by Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), Texas Primary Reading Inventory (TPRI) and the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR). The application was submitted by Gina Gonzales, Alice Scarboro and Jamey Ullrich.

Multiple Elementary Campuses – $10,000
Nine Spring ISD elementary campuses will share in the Yes “Uke” Can grant to equip their schools with full-class sets of ukuleles – 27 instruments at each campus – to incorporate into classroom instruction and music education. The “kid-friendly” size and design of the ukulele makes it a good tool for teaching music theory, chords and the fundamentals of melody and harmony. Campuses that participated in the proposal include Bammel, Booker, Burchett, Cooper, Eickenroht, McNabb, Major, Ponderosa and Winship elementaries. The application was submitted by Christine Ballenger, McNabb Elementary; Sarah Carlisle, Burchett Elementary; Scott Cunningham, Cooper Elementary; Tanisha Flowers, Major Elementary; Charlotte Hatley, Ponderosa Elementary; Ashley Irvin, Eickenroht Elementary; Ellen Perkins, Bammel Elementary; Joshua Ramirez, Booker Elementary; and Elijah Ortiz, Winship Elementary.